Officers sent to de-escalate a dangerous confrontation with a man in a mental health crisis last December used lethal and “less lethal” force at the exact same time, according to newly released documents related to the fatal shooting of 51-year-old Koben Henriksen in Portland, Oregon.
The first officer fired a 1.5 inch sponge bullet, meant to halt Henriksen. The second fired three rounds from an AR-15, killing him.
A Multnomah County Grand Jury declined last month to bring criminal charges against Officer Justin Raphael, saying he acted in self-defense. Transcripts from the jury’s review were released Monday.
Raphael told the jury that Henriksen was walking toward him with a “swift, purposeful pace,” and two pocket knives outstretched in each hand. Henriksen suffered from severe schizophrenia, and, his family believes, was likely trying to provoke officers into killing him. An officer at the scene recalled him yelling, “Do it, shoot me, kill me.”
As Henriksen drew closer, Raphael waited for another officer on scene to fire his 40-millimeter launcher, which shoots bruise-inducing foam bullets intended to subdue subjects — but not kill them.
“I remember as he began to close [the] distance and that that gap began to rapidly shrink, I remember hoping I was going to hear that thunk of that 40-millimeter going off, and I was going to see that … big, spongy foam tip thing hit this guy, and he was going to drop the knives. I remember absolutely hoping and just waiting for that moment,” Raphael said. “But it didn’t happen.”
Officer Daniel Leonard, who was designated as the “less lethal operator,” said he tried to fire the foam launcher as fast as he could. Before he even got out of his police car, he said, he’d “made the decision I’m going to him with my 40 foam tip,” based on the threatening manner in which Henriksen was advancing toward officers.
“It’s the biggest oh shit moment of my life,” he recalled. “[I’m] thinking, okay, if I don’t hit him with this, one of two things is going to happen. Either he’s going to stab an officer or if I don’t hit him with this and change his behavior, he’s going to get shot. And I don’t want either of those things.”
Leonard pinned part of the delay in firing his launcher on the fact that his training dictates he can’t carry the launcher loaded — and loading the weapon can take a few seconds. This meant, in the dynamic situation that unfolded on Dec. 8, by the time Leonard looked down to load the weapon and back up, Leonard says Henriksen was just a few seconds away from Officer Raphael.
“I did it as fast as I could,” he told the jury. “I wish it was faster.”
“There was no time to even put it on,” he recalled. “I took it out, threw it on the hood of my car and tried to put [munition] in so I could hit him with it.”
At the end, Leonard and Raphael appear to have fired at the same time. According to the post-mortem, Henriksen had bruising on his upper left shoulder and gunshot wounds on his nose, chest and abdomen.
Leonard said he had about a year’s experience using the launcher, which resembles a large water gun. The weapons were introduced to the bureau in 2018.
According to the testimony of officer Brandon Cox, the lead instructor for the bureau’s less-lethal program, officers “try to make every attempt for the less lethal to be deployed before the rifle,” but there is no official requirement for officers to do so.
A grand juror asked if Henriksen’s fate would have been different had Raphael the opportunity to fire first.
“I wish I had the answer … every call and every individual is different,” Leonard said. “That’s the tool that I have and I hope that it works. Whether they’re sober or in a mental crisis or high on meth, I have to hope that my tool has some sort of an effect on a person.”